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By distancing creation from nature Christianity rejected freer notions of nature as pagan or pantheist, while imposing a gender hierarchy that rivaled in orthodox fixity creation-from-nothing. Despite the advance of scientific rationalism, Enlightenment culture did not overthrow Christian gender hierarchy. While the ecofeminist movement seized on the liberation of women to bring about ecological change, its agenda stagnated when its activism decreased. Applying a critical-theological reading, this article sees gender hierarchy as subtly read into the Christian exegesis of Genesis rather than flowing from biblical revelation. Acknowledging our current culture as interreligious, it points to two movements forwards, pertaining to gender and creation. First, by locating gender roles in the Trinity, we can loosen the ties with creation and link them to the issue of difference. Second, based on the medieval theological parallelism of nature and scripture one can argue that, in an era where scriptural literacy has lost much of its force, nature can assume a prophetic role. This allows us to reconceive the nature complex insofar as it calls not only for the unity of all creatures as well as of all genders, but ultimately also for the unity of creation with the Creator, what Eriugena called, the unity of all natures.
Throughout the history of Christian thought the theological role of scripture as source of transcendent meaning has exercised considerable influence on the art and manner of biblical interpretation. In the early church the problems revolved mostly around the canon, specifically although not exclusively the New Testament, as defining the confines of scripture. The question arose, therefore, which biblical writings were divinely inspired and which were of doubtful origin. The latter were unacceptable for the Christian communities that had broken away from their ancestral Judaic religion. Even before the canon was fixed, however, the problems shifted from the divinely inspired composition of the Bible to its intrinsic signification; interpreters saw scriptural language itself as infused with theological content. As exegetical positions led to the development of credal statements that solidified into theological dogma, the early church established a link between biblical interpretation and sound doctrine. By enforcing sanctioned interpretations through effective excommunication, an ever more powerful church sealed the dominance of orthodoxy over heresy with the nearly divine force of ecclesiastical authority. In the church-dominated culture of the Middle Ages, the adequacy of scriptural interpretation—its method, its content, the credentials of its practitioners—often depended on its conformity with an expanding theological tradition.
The Periphyseon, the magnum opus of the Carolingian thinker Johannes Scottus Eriugena (810–877), is widely recognized as the most original work in the history of Christian thought between Augustine and Anselm. Set in the form of a dialogue between a Master and his Student, the Periphyseon presents a daring view of the universe, for which Eriugena coins the term natura. Instead of the traditional Christian dichotomy of God versus creation, Eriugena presents a unified view of reality, the intimidating whole of which he can only conceive by submitting it to a process of division. Hence the name Periphyseon or On the Division of Nature.
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